Tokyo bibliography

I wrote a lengthy annotated bibliography for Oxford University Press’s Urban Studies series, for which I got commissioned last year and which kept me busy for an extended period of time. This 20-page document was much more fun to prepare than I thought.

It felt a little bit like writing an ode to the city I have come to know the best of all places I have ever lived in. This is because I spent several years researching its past as my full time occupation of course, but also because getting to know it required me to shed all preconceptions of how to perceive space.

My Japanese language skills were never good enough to approach Tokyo through primary literature, so this bibliography lists English works only. It is by no means exhaustive but the 100+ sources cover a lot of different aspects of the city’s history and current issues.

Jordan Sand offered generous help in identifying new sources and trimming the narrative. I hope it flows well enough to also offer something beyond the specific research query people might use this list for and discover something new.

The full text is behind the OUP paywall, but I hear many academic institutions have access to it. If not, please get in touch.

The thematic chapters are:

  • Introduction
  • General Historical Overviews for Edo/Tokyo
  • 1603–1867: Edo Period
  • The Scepter of Destruction
  • Economic History
  • Political and Social History
  • Contested Spaces
  • Tokyo as a World, Global, and Neoliberal City
  • History of Urban Planning
  • Tokyo Urban Form
  • Architecture
  • Metabolism
  • From Urban Tropes to Urban Theory
  • Housing
  • Placemaking and Heritage
  • Iconic Districts
  • Tokyo Neighborhoods
  • Transportation
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Tokyo Imagined

Generic neighborhood features of an egalitarian city: The postwar “Tokyo Model”

An article drawing on one of my PhD dissertation’s core chapters has just been published by Cities, an urban studies journal. In summary:

  • This paper zooms in on one of the most remarkable case studies of urban growth, i.e. that of Tokyo during the postwar period 1955-1975. Despite the city’s rapid transformation at the heart of the Japanese economic miracle, it became more egalitarian instead of stratifying spatially.
  • Charting this process for Tokyo’s 23 central wards, this paper analyzes inequalities between these administrative subunits over a 20-year period focusing on living space per capita, urban form and business densities.
  • Besides a homogenization in living standards, the 23-ward area under review here also became more equal in terms of its urban form, while neighborhoods retained their traditional character with a high density of bathhouses, small retailers and construction establishments.
  • Tokyo’s non-Western urbanism and recent experience of rapid megacity growth make it more relevant to contemporary developing cities and help historicize the discourse of rapidly growing, large cities.

 

New Zealand

Resurrecting this blog’s travelogue function, herewith some photos of our first trip from Australia, to New Zealand’s North Island. We initially wanted to hire a campervan but eventually decided against it. Instead we went around by rental car and packed the days with highlights for the little one.

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Blast from the past

My friend Rob has dug up some old cassettes, yes, tapes, from the mid-1990s when we all made electronic music using a variety of now arcane-seeming tools. My weapon of choice was “FastTracker II”, a software sequencer used primarily by amateur techno and hardcore producers at the time. It only required a PC running MS-DOS and a reasonable sound card. They were quite simple to use, but required some manual tricks and hacks to push their boundaries and sound effects. It seemed like an eternity before digital audio workstations became available to everyone. (Here is a great summary of the technology and the now-distant culture surrounding it.)

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Youthful idealism

Browsing through the deep archives of the web, I rediscovered some of my own writings from many years ago. One of the posts on my old weblog in particular caught me eye. It’s 17 years old, and about the concept of “Eurasianism”, one of Putin’s ideological foundations in his dangerously hodge-podge worldview.

I’m not going to comment on this from today’s point of view and whether or not it (still) is as relevant as some people make it out to be. But still, I couldn’t resist posting this. I wrote this entry in response to a former blogging buddy visiting a SAIS seminar featuring Aleksandr Dugin (!). I wish my analysis had turned out right, but my youthful self seems to have been engaged in some wishful thinking. Continue reading

Sri Lanka, sovereign credit events and trade finance

Two new research notes produced for my day job; and as a chronicle of such output, herewith the two abstracts:

Sri Lanka update and central debt scenario

A protracted economic crisis has dramatically worsened debt dynamics: A high initial debt burden—of which a significant portion is external debt—is combined with a challenging short-term repayment schedule. At the same time the country is running out of FX reserves as tourism receipts have dwindled and incoming official remittances decreased. Sri Lanka is on the brink of being unable to pay for its obligations and will—with a very high likelihood—require a restructuring of its external debt.

What Happens to Trade Finance in a Sovereign Default?

Trade credit underwritten or extended by export credit agencies (ECAs) offers a promising analytical angle to study the relationship between sovereign credit events and trade finance. ECA credit blurs the lines between commercial and official trade credit and is of outsize importance to developing countries. Although trade finance was thought of as peripheral to the debt restructuring process, we find it to be a central component when seen from the sovereign angle. Local banks could also be directly impacted by a sovereign default depending on their involvement in these ECA transactions.

AAS panel

Following my post from a few weeks ago on the Robson Reports, I am happy that the paper presentation at the AAS Annual Conference this weekend went well. Having brainstormed here before was a tremendous help in putting together a 5,000 rough paper draft, which will hopefully be ready for submission in a few weeks’ time.

Let’s see how the current abstract will have to change until the paper is completed:

Two reports on the TMG, written by British public administration professor William A. Robson in 1967 and 1969, are critically evaluated under the prism of the policy transfer and lesson-drawing literature. Robson’s writings are a concise analysis on the state of the Japanese capital during its high-speed growth spurt and at the onset of the Socialist Minobe administration. Their conception and policy recommendations need to be read in the context of their times and faced limits familiar to the discourse today. However, they serve as a useful historical case study for the inter-urban consultancy discourse, and more importantly, as a yardstick to evaluate Tokyo’s evolution since. They also help to extract lessons from Tokyo’s experience for other (mega-) cities today, as well as for the general urban policy transfer literature.

Daytime endeavors

My daytime job sees me analyze economies and financial institutions in the Asia Pacific region for the Asian Development Bank. In trying to keep things separate and focus on my academic persona here, I have usually not written much about this on the blog.

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Inter-city consulting

I am currently writing a paper which I will present at this year’s Association of Asian Studies conference (virtually, alas, and not in person in Hawai’i). It is about two consultancy reports that Professor William A. Robson wrote about Tokyo in the late 1960s. I am still thinking about what exactly I will cover and what argument I’ll make, so a few scribbles below the break might help me focus.

Robson (center) with the Greater London Group in 1968

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Science fiction scenarios

“Reality out-crazied us by 10 to 15%”, says Adam McKay about the script of Don’t Look Up, which I watched on New Year’s Day to ring in 2022 in style. I am totally with Catherine Bennett and her thoughtful review of the reviews of the film.

While cinematographically a bit of a mess like most of McKay’s films, I was left breathless — also because I had to think of Peter Kalmus’s opinion headline while watching the film (he says it’s the perfect allegory to climate change inaction).

Condescension, unbelievable characters, etc. – all these attacks ring rather hollow amid the real mess that we find ourselves in these last couple of years. Craig Mod’s thoughts on the film also reverberated, did Branko Marcetic’s review on Jacobin.

I have never cared much for science fiction except for a soft spot for all things Star Trek since I am a teenager. Having said that, The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson was one of the best, if not the best book, I read in 2021.

The novel on –yet another!– UN organization (this one set up to fight global heating) must have been a very difficult one to write. Its plot does not extend far beyond the present and tackles current affairs head-on, slippery slope for science fiction I believe. It makes the bureaucratic/scientific fight against climate change accessible though, and against the odds, leaves a hopeful aftertaste.

I’ve started Saad Hossain’s Cyber Magea more out-there novel based in 2089 Dhaka. Extreme population density has become a lifesaver, for nanotechnology has enabled biologically-transformed people to create temperate zones of survival on a very hostile planet. A wild ride so far and I look forward to exploring more of this new world of science fiction once through with this.

The reason I wanted to jot these observations down: My former employer Shell is / was one of the pioneers of creating long-term scenarios and using them as an input to their operations. I came across that team’s work while in the asset management arm of the company. (The irony of global heating and Shell is not lost on me.)

I read that Dr. Cho Khong, who I have had the pleasure of meeting a few times, has now left Shell for a Fellowship at Oxford’s Said Business School. He had been around for a long time establishing political analysis as a cornerstone of the scenario work at the oil major.

The last couple of years have made long-term thinking harder no doubt. The scenario folks will respond that their work has become ever more important as a result. I agree to an extent, especially if that work is done properly.

It is certainly helpful to expose the methodology to the rigor of peer review and other academic due diligence – as too much of the global scenario industry lives within the limitations of Powerpoint slides and short corporate attention spans. Or in “The World in 2022” predictions littering the papers at this time of the year.

Science fiction writing seems at least as, if not more, elegant to conceptualize the future. The creators tend to be more creative. And because reality will out-crazy us anyway, why not go out on a limp even more to delineate the possible margins of our future? We might find out that our imagination has looked tame in comparison to the realities we will one day wake up to.

Science fiction?